Thursday, April 17, 2014

A Little Gossip About Iris

A Little Gossip About Iris



  IN PRESENTING its 1933 list of iris, Quality Gardens offers the pick of the finest iris in the world, old and new the most comprehensive collection of the finest quality iris that can be assembled. We offer this year the pick of the new introductions, both foreign and American, selected after careful study and inspection.
  In making this selection we rely on our personal judgment of the iris based on the experiences of living with them for more than twenty years, growing them both for pleasure and profit. This covers the period of the development of the tall bearded iris from mediocrity and comparative scarcity and a minor position in the gardens of the country, to the pre-eminently and superlatively beautiful garden material of early June and late May-the flower par excellence of its season and indispensable as the liaison between the brilliant late tulips and the wealth of June bloom with its peonies, roses, delphiniums and other garden standbys.

We make our own selections of new irises for introduction after personal inspection and study for the most part and when this is impossible rely on the judgement of those we know to be thoroughly competent to pass judgement and express a sound opinion of the value of the flower. We have been singularly fortunate in having the judgement of foreign correspondents of conservative viewpoint on the flood of European introductions so that we present only the finest of these.

We do not rely on the ratings of the American Iris Society which we found some time ago to be an unreliable guide, in the nature of a compromise of good, bad, and indifferent judging by judges whose identity is always concealed in anonymity. The experienced dealer soon learns to estimate these ratings for what they are worth, sometimes valuable, at other times not only valueless but a direct and undeserved injury to business, both of the retailer and breeder. We also often find iris of no great difference from those already in commerce and no distinct improvement upon them, more highly rated than they deserve.

The 1932 rating list was no exception in this respect and we do not print these ratings. It is, as usual, a most inconsistent affair, some judges rating high, others low, and still others apparently jack and the game. We have consistently maintained that if a fair score card were followed accurately, reasonably competent judges must necessarily arrive at very close to the same estimate. The 1932 ratings find some of the judges so remote from each other in their estimates that the figures would not indicate they were judging the same plant.
The curious and interesting part of it is the fact that the buying public, the rank and file of people who grow irises in their gardens for their own pleasure so often disagree decidedly with official estimates. As an example, the first American award of the Dykes medal was made to San Francisco, first of the giant plicatas. Its sister seedling, Los Angeles, outsells it year in and year out by a wide margin. The selection of the 50 and 100 best irises by the accredited judges of the American Iris Society also places Los Angeles ahead of San Francisco. This should not be taken as at all discounting San Francisco, a great and wonderful iris, finest of the giant plicata type, but it shows the, fallibility of official ratings.

The second Dykes medal award in America was made to Dauntless, a beautiful rose toned iris misrepresented as the "reddest" iris at the time of its introduction. But another red and rose toned iris, Indian Chief, consistently outsells Dauntless. Dauntless also did not head the list of 50 best in the pink lavender to red purple section made by the accredited judges who placed Frieda Mohr at the top. We believe the inclusion of the pinks and dark red purples in one class was an incongruous grouping as they are not comparable. This placing of Frieda Mohr ahead of Dauntless should not be taken as any discount for Dauntless, one of the most beautiful iris ever introduced. It merely illustrates the vagaries of ratings as we now have them.
As we are constantly finding definite disagreements between the selling values which is the registration of popular approval and the ratings, we have decided to ignore ratings in selecting our list.
The fact that an iris is a new introduction does not necessarily indicate that it is of better quality than older irises. Theoretically it should, as the only excuse for introducing a new iris in the great flood of irises is that it is a new color, or color combination, of an improvement of an iris of its type in commerce. In looking over our list of last year we find that we included twenty odd irises that had been in commerce for ten years or more in our first quality list.  They deserved it. The rating list would indicate a discount was made for years in commerce although the score card gives no allowance of that nature.
While very few of the irises in our last year's list fell into the discard list as prescribed by the American Iris Society in its 1932 ratings, a rating of below 70 indicating that the iris should be discarded, or, if a new one' should not have been- introduced, the few that fell below the charmed 70 in our list are consistently good sellers and much admired by the iris growing public' One of these was Perry's May Sadler, the lowest figure in our list, which three accredited judges placed at 68. May Sadler is a fine, large, showy, deep red purple that sells itself in its beauty as it grows in the garden, having fine garden value, a characteristic possessed in unusual degree by all of Perry's introductions.

One very fine iris, Avalon, was not rated at all. By what manipulation of the score card a judge arrived at a rating of 75 for Asia is beyond our comprehension. We are also up a tree as to how such a exquisite iris as Mme. Durrand which has no counterpart could be reduced to 76, and so on.
Super sensitiveness to details and technicalities rather than good sense as to the general effect of the growing iris seems to have overwhelmed many judges. We are heartily in accord with the efforts of the American Iris Society to correct these abuses and make the ratings a sensible and valuable registry of iris values, particularly as to relative values. The effort has not come a minute too soon. We have always argued that ratings should be made by judges with the courage to sign their names to their figures.

We know that many of the more experienced judges are willing to do so. The fair and competent judges are well known to the iris trade and their opinions and ratings are valued accordingly.We protest most energetically against the ruin of the sale of a first-class iris by the axe of the dilettante, inexperienced, incompetent or prejudiced judge whose identity we do not know.
The dealer is as anxious to be spared the loss of buying gold brick introductions as anyone. Many new introductions held at high prices by the breeders prove to be practical duplicates or no improvement on irises already well established in commerce. It would be ridiculous in a dealer to push the sale of such irises, if they were aware of the facts, as visitors to their gardens would at once note the similarity to older irises at half or even more than that margin of the price of the novelty. One or the other is bound to become dead stock on the dealer's hands, usually the high priced novelty that has proved to be no novelty.
So far as we can discover, there seems no practical way so far devised to label a new iris as nothing really new and no improvement on existing varieties. We must rely, when we cannot personally inspect a new introduction, on the opinions of competent judges, their notes and comment being of great value. These should be signed so that proper weight can be attached as it is no reflection on the judges to say that some are far more experienced and have a far wider acquaintance with existing varieties than others.

Well meant notes of "not wanted" and "not needed." made by some of the judges have roused storms of complaint. The iris in question might not be wanted or needed by the judge but might be very much wanted by some other judge and by gardeners of the country who are the real judges of what they need and what they want to buy. We believe the breeders and dealers in iris will not consider that they are getting an altogether square deal from the American Iris Society until ratings and comments are signed by their authors when published.
We realize the practical difficulties of such publication thoroughly and the solution of it seems to us to be a limited number of judges' of known ability and fairness, whose ratings could be published with their signatures instead of averaging the ratings of from 50 to 100 judges many of whom have neither the knowledge of iris varieties nor the experience to qualify them for the work.
The decision to publish ratings only when at least five judges have turned in figures is an excellent move. While theoretically the rating of one judge should be as valuable as that of another, presupposing them all to be of equal competence, it unfortunately does not work out that way and some of the single ratings published in the 1932 ratings were rankly unfair. It is puzzling to understand how some of the figures could have been reached by any judge with the score card and the iris in front of him. Perhaps they were not. The character of many of the ratings is such as to suggest "arm chair" figures merely set down by the judge, according to his own ideas, without reference to the point scale, while comfortably seated before the grate fire.

We are this year making a new departure in our first offer and introduction of a list of autumn blooming iris. The autumn bloomers and intermediate classes seem the immediate trend of iris development. Progress in the tall bearded class seems to be limited to new colors and combinations of colors in the blends. There seems little to be expected in the prevailing blue lavender selfs and bicolors, red purples and blue purples except perfection of detail and greater purity of color, perhaps. The field of blends is open.

The autumn bloomers are practically a new class as so far they have been merely incidental and have not been developed and assembled as a distinct class. The Sass Brother's, Jacob and Hans, have done much work in developing this class of irises, in fact have been persistent pioneers since the introduction of Autumn King.
Other breeders from time to time announce fall blooming tendencies in some of their irises. We have assembled a list of the surest fire fall bloomers which have stood the test of several years of consistent performers as fall bloomers.From a pioneering start of a few irises of rather small blooms, the fall blooming iris has now been developed into varieties of Dominion ancestry and size and quality with possibilities apparently open for still further development not only of fall bloomers but a possibility of ever bloomers as instanced by the white Autumn Queen which has made a record of blooming every month from May to December.
It must be borne in mind that fall blooming is a trait derived from pumila iris ancestry, a number of these dwarfs blooming each fall under favorable weather conditions. The fall blooming qualities depend to a great extent on culture. To make fall bloomers do their full duty, the fall bloomer must be given plenty of room, fertile soil, and should be given moisture in periods of summer drought to promote early resumption of growth.

The early start of fall growth is essential to promoting the fall blooming qualities.
The fall blooming does not interfere with the usual freedom of bloom at the regular season.
Fall bloomers cover the entire field of bearded irises, the dwarfs, intermediates, and tall bearded sections. Unlike the earlier season bloom, these three classes which are spread over a period of from early April to mid June in the normal iris season, all bloom at the same time in the fall so the possibilities of a fall iris display in which dwarfs, intermediates and tall bearded may be utilized at the same time, are great.

"Irises That Bloom In The Fall" is the title of the last chapter of a small book by Clint McDade of Chattanooga,[Ref 1] who has been testing fall blooming irises in his Tennessee garden for a number of years. In it he describes the best varieties and tells you how to grow them. The rest of the book is devoted to a description of his trip east last year and his visits to eastern iris gardens. His notes and ratings of the newer introductions are particularly good, and clearly show him to be a competent and reliable judge of the newest and best in iris.

The 1933 Annual Meeting of the American Iris Society will be held in Freeport on Saturday, June 3rd. The Freeport Garden Club will again sponsor the Iris Show which will be held in the Masonic Temple, June 3rd and 4th. Persons attending the Century of Progress in Chicago, may visit Freeport, attend the show and return the same evening, if they desire. Quality Gardens extends a most cordial invitation to those attending to visit our display garden, which is located at 871 West Stephenson Street.


I value the thrust of Mrs Pattison's argument, and her opinion is just as relevant today as when it was published in 1933. Just how many decisions have been recently made by the iris societies chattering classes without taking into account the opinions of the majority of Iris growers in the world the so called 'Home Gardeners', who are the real back bone of the Iris world yet most, are not likely to be members of Iris Societies. I remember been told some time ago by one of the owner's of a Commercial Iris Nursery with a International reputation, that if the business relied on just the sales to members of Iris Societies it would never have lasted the first few years. So in saying this  perhaps some of the 'I'm in Charge' members of societies should reflect on these facts before making their so called momentous and ground breaking decisions and at least try and be plausible with their decision making processes by getting their heads around 'market forces.' Unless of course these ning nong's think that making their iris society irrelevant to the real gardening world is their best idea. T.J.

[Ref 1] Clint McDade of Tennessee is recorded in the 1939 Checklist as "An Iris breeder particularly fond of Autumn-blooming Irises. He raised some seedlings and imported many European varieties." 
The chapter "Irises That Bloom In The Fall" can be found in his book 'Rainbow's end, or, Journeys of an iris lover, 1932 season'. 


  1. A timely article. . . things haven't changed so very much in some areas of the iris world in just over 80 years, have they?

  2. Thanks for re-printing this, it' a very interesting piece! True then, and now. Those of us who are members of the various iris "Societies" often forget that most of the iris are grown by gardeners who DON'T belong to Sociteis !


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